Traveling with your pup can be both a fun and daunting experience. All airlines have their own specific regulations for flying with a dog, so be sure to double-check details with the airline in advance to guarantee a smooth flight. Generally, dogs are allowed to travel in designated pet carriers either as checked luggage or stowed away under seats in the cabin. There’s nothing quite like having your furry best friend next to you during your travels!
Below we’ve compiled a list of tips for flying with a dog from veterinarians, trainers, and expert dog parents to help you easily travel with your furry friend!
28 Helpful Tips For Flying With A Dog
Get An All-Clear From Your Veterinarian
Flying with your beloved pup in tow can be an exciting experience, but ensuring your dog’s health won’t be at risk during the journey is essential. Before flying with your dog, schedule a checkup with your veterinarian. At this appointment, you and your vet can discuss the dos and don’ts of flying with a dog, such as how long you should stay in the air, what needs to be done to prepare your dog for flying, or any potential issues that could arise if your pup is exposed to changes in altitude or cabin pressure.
“The first thing you need to do before booking a flight with your dog is to talk to your vet. Why? Because for starters, airlines require health certification. But more importantly, talk to your vet about medication that can help your dog travel safely. Be it anxiety medications or anything else, your vet knows your puppy well and can help you decide on how to fly with your dog,” says Aleksandar, owner of The Daily Tail.
“Check with your vet to see if your dog is in good health, and make sure your pet’s breed isn’t restricted. Airlines allow limited pets per flight, so book early to ensure your preferred flight is available. Acclimate your pet to the kennel, request early boarding, and keep your pet’s health documents on hand,” says Martin Betch, co-founder of Hi-Van travel.
Research the Airline’s Dog Policies and Restrictions
When flying with your dog, it pays to research your airline’s pet policies and regulations. Not all airlines are the same in terms of the size and types of animals they allow on-board, required documentation, entry to the cabin or cargo area, and various fees associated with flying with your pup. Knowing these rules before your departure date can help you prepare accordingly and ensure that flying is a comfortable experience for you and your furry companion.
“Before you take off, it’s important to understand the rules and regulations of flying with a dog. Most airlines will require you to provide proof of your dog’s health, including vaccines and proof of health, from a vet. Additionally, some airlines may restrict the size and type of pet that can be brought on board. Check with your airline for their requirements before booking your flight,” says Jessica Martin, a pet parent.
“Play by the rules! Each dog is special — but airlines, TSA, FAA, and fellow passengers don’t care. Make sure that vaccinations are up-to-date, that your dog has a wellness exam prior to flying (and within the specified timeframe), and that the carrier you choose is FAA-approved and fits under the seat in front of you. Our vet also checked the location we were visiting to see if our dog would need any other vaccinations applicable to our destination,” says Joan Hunter Mayer, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer at The Inquisitive Canine.
“Not every airport in the world allows pets to accompany the tourist as there are restrictions, so if you are going to travel with your dog, it’s a good idea to check with the airport of your destination,” says Axel Hernborg, CEO of Tripplo.
“Make sure your dog’s breed is not restricted on the airline. For instance, some airlines have restrictions on short-nosed dogs, such as bulldogs and Boston terriers,” says Bethany Tate, a pet trainer and the Managing Editor of Whole Pet Health.
Tips For Booking A Flight For Your Dog
“All airlines have a limit to the number of pets allowed onboard in the passenger cabin, so you must make a reservation for your pet, preferably when you make your reservation. Airlines allow ten months in advance to book your reservation, so if possible, book your reservation for you and your pet as soon as possible,” says Gayle Martz, founder of SHERPA pet carriers.
“There are a few things I’ve learned from my experience as a pet parent that makes flying with a dog much easier than it could be. First, I recommend booking your flight early when most people aren’t traveling. This means you’re less likely to end up with a massive crowd of people trying to board the plane simultaneously,” recommends pet parent Lauren Farley.
“The best tip when you fly with a dog is to fly direct. Get a flight with no layovers. If you have to have your dog in the cargo hold, fly during the morning in the summertime to avoid hot temperatures and midday during winter to avoid the cold,” says Larry Snider, VP of Operations of Casago Vacation Rentals.
Get Permission to Board Your Flight Early
It’s possible to board some flights early when flying with a dog. This can offer a huge convenience when traveling with an animal companion, as you won’t have to deal with fighting passing passengers asking if they can get by you or worries that the general hustle of flying could spook your pet. Always ask to board your flight earlier when flying with a dog!
Richard West, Founder of Puppy Hero, recommends, “When flying with a dog, you should board early. You may think you can’t do that, but that’s not true. All you have to do is ask the management when you’re getting your boarding pass, and they’ll make sure you board before all other passengers. Having a pet gives you that perk. So, you’ll have a few minutes to get settled on the plane and stay calm before the actual boarding begins.”
Get an Airline-Approved Dog Carrier
Airlines only allow pets in carriers that meet their specifications for size and construction, so investing in the right one will ensure that you make your flight. Make sure that whoever supplies the carrier has certification from airlines, as this will ensure your pet’s comfort and safety during your travels.
“If you’re planning to fly with your dog, purchasing an airline-approved crate or carrier is crucial. Most airlines cap hard-sided kennels at 17.5″ long, 12″ wide, and 7.5″ tall for in-cabin travel, so if your dog is small enough, you can take them with you. Larger dogs have to fly in the cargo section of the plane, so you’ll want to take the time to buy a durable, high-quality kennel. Generally speaking, flying in the cargo section is highly stressful for dogs, so it may be best to leave your furry friend with a pet sitter if you can,” says dog parent Christen Costa.
Oberon Copeland, founder and CEO of Very Informed, recommends, “To make your next flying experience with your pup hassle-free, it’s best to plan and research the airline you’re taking. Look into their size requirements for carrying an animal in the cabin; most have specific guidelines that must be followed.”
“When I flew Roger Wellington (my ultra bossy seven-pound Yorkshire Terrier) from Amsterdam to Stockholm, I was initially denied at the check-in counter. The airline representative claimed that my soft shoulder carrier at the time was too small for Roger W. because he had to be able to sit, stand, and turn around. Since every airline has slightly different maximum dimensions for acceptable carriers, it’s best to have a backup,” says Gigi Chow, who has flown with her dog on over 60 flights across 24 countries.
Make Sure Your Dog is Familiar With The New Carrier
When flying with a dog, one of the most important steps is to help your dog get used to his new carrier. Start this process well before you plan to leave to help your pup become comfortable and familiar with his carrier.
Introduce it slowly into their environment by allowing them to explore it and let them sniff around and explore inside their new carrier. Offer treats and lots of praise when interacting with the carrier so they associate the item just like any other toy or accessory. Make sure to practice putting your pup inside the closed carrier for a few minutes so you can ensure he’s ready for flying day!
“When it comes to tips for traveling with your puppy, a strategy you must follow even weeks before your flight takes place is getting your pet accustomed to the carrier. Suppose you suddenly trap your dog in a carrier and take him with you on a flight that lasts several hours. In that case, he will certainly feel anxious and uneasy during the whole flight. It’s safe to say he won’t make the flight easy for you nor the people around you,” recommends Dr. Sabrina Kong, DVM, a dog trainer & veterinary consultant at We Love Doodles.
“Get your dog used to being in the carrier before travel day; put their favorite toy or treat inside and let them hang out in there for short periods so they’ll be comfortable on the day of travel,” says Alex C., a travel blogger at Lovely Terra.
“My top tip for flying with a dog (especially in cargo) would be to acclimate your pup to the carrier well ahead of time. There are many stressful elements of air travel for dogs without adding the extra stress of being placed in an unfamiliar carrier. Making the crate a positive and relaxing space ahead of time can help reduce your dog’s overall stress level during this experience,” recommends Josh Snead, CEO of Rainwalk Pet Insurance.
Utilize Pet Relief Areas in the Airport
Flying with a dog can be stressful, but airports are helping make it easier by introducing pet relief areas. These dedicated spaces provide weary travelers and their canine companions a much-needed respite with amenities like an artificial grass patch for urinating and feces disposal bags for cleanup. With pet relief areas popping up across the country, it’s becoming easier to travel securely with your pet while keeping those around you comfortable.
“Be sure your dog uses the bathroom closer to your scheduled flight. Most people forget it takes up to an hour (depending on where you live) to get to the airport, then you’re at the airport for about an hour for check-in/waiting to board, then you sit on the plane for 20-45 minutes before take-off. That’s already three hours of your dog without “potty” access. There may be unanticipated flight delays even if you’re taking a short, one-hour flight. I always schedule my flights right after my dog’s normal potty routine, and I’ve never had an issue with her being anxious on the flight needing to potty. Fortunately, many airports are adding pet relief areas, but it’s hit or miss,” says Jimmy Im who has flown over 100 times with his dog Ruby.
“Locate your air carrier’s pet relief area before traveling. Some airports have these inside the terminal, and some are outside. Many offer both. It’s best to map this out beforehand, so you’re not rushing to your gate or wandering through the airport with a pooch with a full bladder, says Jenn Lloyd of Sick Girl Travels.
Feeding and Hydrating Your Dog
Feeding your dog before a flight can cause several issues, including needing to relieve themselves or an upset stomach. Opinions on when to feed your dog on a flight vary, so be sure to talk to your vet, who knows your dog well.
When flying with your dog, it’s essential to keep them properly hydrated. Dogs can become dehydrated more quickly than humans, making adequate water intake especially important in an airplane cabin where humidity levels are typically lower. To stay hydrated during the flight, bring a travel water bowl and lots of fresh clean water when flying with your pup.
“It is not recommended to feed your dog up to 12 hours before the flight; however, ensure they are well hydrated up until you leave,” says Dr. Jennifer Bruns, DVM, MPVM at PetSmart.
“The most important tip for any pet owner flying with a dog would be to keep them well-hydrated prior to the flight. Also, add a spill-proof water dispenser inside your pet carrier to keep the dog hydrated throughout the flight,” says Steve Harris, founder of Daily Dog Stuff.
Be Prepared For Messes: Pee, Poop, and Vomit
When flying with a dog, preparing ahead of time is essential. Before taking off, ensure you have a comprehensive cleaning kit in your possession to keep your pet and surrounding area clean and sanitized during your journey. The kit should include plenty of wipes and other necessary cleaning supplies that will make it easier for you to keep up with messes quickly and easily.
“Prepare for everything – My dog has an exceptional bladder, but I still brought pee pads and a small cleaning kit just in case. Be ready for anything,” says Zach Lazzari, who has flown in the US and internationally with his dog.
“You’ll also want to be prepared for some pet mess. Some plastic bags, gloves, and cleaning wipes can help you manage any messes they make in their carrier, making a more pleasant flight for everyone,” says pet parent Nick Valentino.
Other Tips For Flying With A Dog
“When preparing for a flight with your dog, I always recommend packing items your dog is already familiar with and loves, like special toys, blankets, and treats, to keep them comfortable and feeling safe. The key is to ensure the items are familiar, but something they enjoy and are not bored or tired of,” says Dr. Darcia Kostiuk, Senior Veterinarian for ORIJEN® and ACANA® pet food.
“Make sure your dog knows how to behave under such distractions and can lay calmly, walk next to you and wait politely for your flight. If your dog has to be contained in a carrier under your seat, make sure that your dog is used to being in such a small space without panicking so that you don’t cause issues with the other passengers or flight crew, which could cause you and your dog to be removed from the flight,” recommends Elissa Weimer-Sentner, owner of Paw and Order, who flys frequently with her certified Narcotics K-9.
“In my experience, the friendliest and most widely available airline to fly with our dogs has been American Airlines. They charge $125 and let you bring your pet into the main cabin. You have to keep your dog in a small kennel the entire time, but this is understandable. We haven’t had any issues whatsoever and have used them many times,” says Tory of Xen Pets.
3 Recommended Airline-Approved Dog Carriers
Our survey revealed several in-cabin airline-approved dog carriers that vets, dog trainers, and pet parents repeatedly recommended for flying with a dog.
#1 SHERPA Pet Carriers
The most popular brand for in-cabin airline-approved dog carriers was SHERPA, so we reached out to founder Gayle Martz. “I created the first soft-sided pet carrier (The SHERPA Bag) for smaller pets to travel in the passenger cabin. While that is not new, what is new is the increase of pet owners traveling with their pets who must learn the rules and regulations of airlines and abide by them so we do not lose the privileges I advocated for in 1992 when I got American Airlines to change its policy to allow pets to travel in the passenger cabin – then other airlines followed.”
#2 SleepyPod Air
“The SleepyPod Air is my number one recommendation. It’s the longest airline-approved pet carrier and has amazing ventilation compared to many other options. It also includes plush bedding, a tether to prevent quick pet escapes at the airport, and best of all, a trolly pocket to slide it on top of your suitcase – for ease while bustling through the airport,” recommends Nicole Ellis, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Lifestyle Expert with Rover.
#3 Mr. Peanut’s Soft-Sided Pet Carriers
“The Mr. Peanut dog carrier is a great choice for flying with your dog on longer trips, where your pet might need a little more space at some point during your travel day. It’s expandable to give your dog more room while you’re on a layover. Mr. Peanut is also a family-owned business that gives back a portion of its sales to help shelter animals. Not only do they make a great product, but it feels great to help support small businesses that are giving back to their communities,” says Kyle MacDonald, Director of Operations at Force by Mojio.
Final Thoughts on Flying With A Dog
Flying with a dog can be a stressful experience both for the pet parents and their pup. To ensure a safe and pleasant journey, it is essential to plan and prepare yourself and your pup with all the necessities. Taking the proper steps will reduce stress levels and ensure everyone has an enjoyable experience while in the skies!
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This article originally appeared on Wander With Alex.
Alexandrea Sumuel is a travel writer and the founder of the Wander With Alex travel blog, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! Alex’s mission is to help people travel a little easier.